Let’s get serious about the cloud

This week’s Google I/O developer conference was medium interesting. There were solid technical classes on AppEngine, and neat demonstrations of the Android mobile-phone software stack. There were lots of discussions about social networks, and the virtuous cycle between compelling new applications, new users and advertising, which in turn funds new applications.

What was missing from Google I/O was a compelling vision, beyond “more of the same.” I came away informed, but not inspired, by Google’s three-fold mission: make the cloud more accessible, keep connectivity pervasive, and make the client more powerful. In all of these, Google is evolutionary, not revolutionary.

That’s not to discount the impact that Google’s entry into cloud computing will have. At the conference, Google unleashed the tiger, making its App Engine generally available to its customers. The pricing model – free for up to about 5 million pageviews/month – is compelling for trying out ideas. The technology appears solid. The APIs are very approachable. And as with Amazon’s programmable platform, anyone can use the applications that you build. (Salesforce.com’s hosting model is geared at providing third-party applications for their paying CRM customers.)

Google’s App Engine is going to get traffic, of that there’s absolutely no doubt. That is going to be a catalyst for seriously considering the cloud as a deployment platform for enterprise applications of all kinds. Even when a company has a full-featured Internet data center, some apps may lend themselves better to Google’s hosted platform. Thanks to Amazon and Google, the cloud is now a genuine platform that bears serious consideration for new projects.

By the way, the totally coolest thing at Google I/O was a demonstration of Google Maps for Mobile running on an Android phone prototype. The demo combined Street View with the device’s built-in compass and accelerometer to show you an annotated picture of whatever you pointed the phone at.

One bit of trivia is that Google says it will drop its name from Google Gears. That’s the set of Windows, Mac and Linux downloadable client code that can accelerate specially-built Web apps. No timeframe was given for when the rebranding as just “Gears” will take place. It hasn’t happened yet.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick